Coronavirus and Child Support: What to Do if Your Income Has Changed

Every day, we are getting more news about the coronavirus and most of it is discouraging: more and more people are getting sick, many are dying, and a vaccine may be more than a year away.  As if the health news isn’t enough of a burden, it is accompanied by an economic tsunami. With so many businesses closed to limit the spread of the virus, many employees are losing hours and jobs.

If you are one of them, you can cut back on luxuries and discretionary spending and you can save money by not commuting or buying lunch every day, but there are some expenses that are essential—like paying for food, utilities, shelter, and clothing for your child. Many parents are panicked because they have either lost their job and can’t pay child support, or they receive child support and payments have stopped. In families where both parents have lost or reduced income, the situation is even more dire. What can you do if your income has changed due to coronavirus?

Should You Modify Child Support if You’ve Lost Income Due to COVID-19?

The unknowns surrounding COVID-19 make things especially difficult: we have no idea how long these layoffs, furloughs, and unemployment will last and we have no idea how much worse things will become. If you have a reasonable expectation that your income will be restored soon, you may want to hold tight. If it is only a three-week furlough, then our advice will likely tell you to make it through without modifying support.  If you are unsure if you will have a job, unsure when your place of employment will open again, or don’t anticipate your income picking back up any time soon, it might be time to consider a modification of support.

Ohio courts retain jurisdiction over child support awards made by the court or made by CSEA, which means that they keep the authority to change them after the initial child support order is entered. That is a good thing: child support may be ordered for well over a decade, and the family’s financial circumstances are almost certain to change over that period. It makes sense that the court should be able to modify child support as changes happen.

At the same time, child support needs to be predictable, so the children and the parent receiving support can count on funds being available to benefit the child. Courts strike a balance: child support can be modified, but there must be a change of circumstances that is both substantial and not anticipated at the time that the last child support order was entered.

How do you know if a change in circumstances is “substantial” enough to warrant a modification of child support? A good rule of thumb is this: if the child support calculated on the guideline worksheet would now be at least 10% different (more or less) from the existing order, then it is a “substantial” enough change. For example, if a parent was paying $500 per month in child support, and calculations based on the parent’s new income level would result in a payment of more than $550 or less than $450, the change is substantial.

One good reason not to delay seeking a modification of child support is that the court may order the change in support to be retroactive to the date you filed for a modification. If you wait for months after your income is reduced to file, you may be on the hook for payments that you lacked the income to make.

An experienced Ohio family law attorney can help you determine if the calculation is different enough to be worth a trip to court, and file a motion for modification of child support and present the evidence in support of your motion in a way that the court will accept. And while you are waiting for a decision on a motion to modify support, please continue to make child support payments as best you can to demonstrate good faith.

Enforcing Ohio Child Support When the Obligor is Out of Work

Parents paying child support aren’t the only ones seeking the court’s help regarding payments. Parents receiving support payments may suddenly find themselves in distress when the obligor (paying) parent loses income and stops making payments. If reaching out to the obligor doesn’t help or isn’t possible, the other parent may need to seek court help.

Understand that if the obligor is out of work, he or she may respond to efforts at enforcement with a motion to modify child support. Both parents have an obligation to support their children, but courts recognize they also need to be able to support themselves. To that end, efforts to get a child support order enforced may be successful, but the amount of child support may also be reduced due to the obligor’s change in circumstances. On the other hand, if the obligor is still fully employed, but you are out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is possible that your child support amount could increase.

The bottom line is that these are hard times for everyone. If you are suffering financially, it may make sense to revisit your child support award. If it is possible to discuss your situation with the other parent, by all means, do so; you may be able to reach an agreement that can be drafted by an attorney and formalized by the court. You should always have your attorney review any proposed agreements to make sure it complies with the law and to make sure you understand all the implications before signing.

If you have lost income due to COVID-19 or child support has not been paid according to your orders, don’t ignore the problem. We invite you to contact our law office to schedule a remote consultation.